It’s Complicated: Facebook’s Relationship With Civil Society

Facebook made headlines Thursday, banning several media personalities from their social media platforms, calling them “dangerous.”  That is, multiple media outlets reported the bans before they actually took place.  Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Nehlen, Louis Farrakhan, Paul Joseph Watson, and Infowars creator Alex Jones still had control of their Facebook and Instagram accounts several hours after their bans were reported by the press.

Infowars’ status as a proscribed entity seems particularly unique.  In a move usually reserved for terrorist organizations, all official and unofficial pages and content has been removed.  Infowars content posted by ordinary users will be removed.  Repeat violators of this policy will themselves be banned.

Meanwhile, President Trump spent his weekend criticizing Facebook and Twitter on Facebook and Twitter.  “I am continuing to monitor the censorship of AMERICAN CITIZENS on social media platforms,” he wrote.  “It’s getting worse and worse for Conservatives on social media!”  Other Trump tweets defended those on the right who had seen their accounts suspended on Facebook or Twitter, or banned outright.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) proposed breaking up “Big Tech,” including Facebook, in March.  On Friday, none other than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who makes her living on social media, endorsed Warren’s proposal.  “The idea itself is something that I am supportive of because taking an antitrust approach I believe is absolutely relevant and it’s appropriate to take,” Ocasio-Cortez told Politico.

Warren’s plan seems to have more support among Republicans than mainstream Democrats, who prefer various forms of regulation to outright breakups.  “First time I’ve ever retweeted [Sen. Warren] But she’s right,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) quipped in March.  “Big Tech has way too much power to silence Free Speech. They shouldn’t be censoring Warren, or anybody else.  A serious threat to our democracy.”

Bans of “dangerous” personalities are only the latest bit of controversy for the social media giant.  Already facing criticism for being manipulated by old autocracies and new illiberal democracies, Facebook may soon be tugged in differing directions by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.  Should the European Union demand copyrighted material be taken down, as part of their so-called “meme ban,” American conservatives like Cruz might soon insist Facebook be punished for removing it.

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Robert Martin (CN Staff)

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